James Herbert Cunningham

James Herbert Cunningham

An Astoria man was sentenced Tuesday to probation after allegedly having sex with a young woman without her consent in 2015.

James Herbert Cunningham, 47, pleaded no contest to third-degree assault after originally facing a lengthy list of sex abuse charges. If Cunningham violates probation, he would face a prison sentence of more than two years.

In 2015, Cunningham met with Dennis Lee Sturgell, 66, at an Astoria hotel. Earlier in the night, Sturgell drank with the woman at a Warrenton bar, provided cocaine to her and drove her to his wooded property in Naselle, Washington, where he sexually abused her.

Sturgell then took the heavily intoxicated woman to the Astoria hotel before meeting with Cunningham. After entering the hotel room and seeing the woman, Cunningham asked, “Where did you find this one?” the victim said during Sturgell’s trial in November.

Cunningham then had sex with her and performed other sexual acts, the victim said. Circuit Court Judge Paula Brownhill ruled during Sturgell’s trial that prosecutors needed to prove that he knew the woman was incapacitated or physically helpless.

Since Cunningham did not provide her with drugs or alcohol, like Sturgell, prosecutors were unable to prove that he knew the victim was unable to give consent, Deputy District Attorney Dawn Buzzard said. The victim did, however, experience soreness after the encounter, leading to the assault charge.

Sturgell was convicted in November of four counts of first-degree sodomy, two counts of first-degree unlawful sexual penetration and one count of second-degree sex abuse. He was sentenced Monday to more than 13 years in prison.

Cunningham was scheduled for a trial this week on a host of sex abuse charges, including first-degree rape. Several of the charges carried minimum sentences of more than six years in prison under state law.

But he instead pleaded no contest Tuesday to the assault charge.

“We believed that this was going to trial, but we negotiated a very favorable deal,” said John Gutbezahl, Cunningham’s court-appointed attorney.

Jack Heffernan is a reporter for The Daily Astorian. Contact him at 971-704-1724 or jheffernan@dailyastorian.com.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.